We’re Giving Creatives the Wrong Advice About Stress– and Here’s Why

by Dr. Jennifer Rhodes 

In 2013, Dr. Kelly McGonical gave an inspiring TED talk about stress.  According to her research, stress seems to only be harmful if you think it is.  In her talk and in her book that would follow, she encourages people to become friends with stress and to use the experience to build resilience.

This is not necessarily bad advice.  Stemming from the mindfulness movement, being able to sit with stress, not react to stress and to move beyond stress is what resilient individuals do every day.  Yet, that piece of the advice is being ignored in favor of telling creatives that they should seek a stressful life because it will make them more productive in the art world. And more productive is “better,” right?  In a recent ARTSY blog post, this was precisely the question posed.

This advice actually flies in the face of decades long research on both mindfulness and creativity.  As a licensed psychologist myself, I would never tell creatives to use stress to make themselves perform if that style was not a good fit for who they really are.

That’s right.  We are about to train a generation of creatives to ignore their own intuition and to listen to the demands of our culture on how to produce artwork from a one-size-fits-all perspective.  Last week, one of my interns thought it was weird that she was told in a class at a well known art school to take her time to produce just two pieces of work for the year. This used to be the norm–and it was the norm for a good reason. Now, students don’t know what to do with the time that they should use to be mindlessly wandering to ignite further creative thoughts.  Mindless wandering and following their curiosity is what helps creatives learn about their own creativity!

Many artists have been gifted with the ability to use their intuition and emotion to guide their creativity.  Yet, few understand who they really are or how to use these gifts to support their creativity. Having stress or negative emotions is not bad, but in the book The Upside of your Dark Side, Todd Kashdan, PhD states that you have to be able to label all of your emotional experiences to benefit from not being thrown by stress.  Most of us cannot do this. We report that we simply feel bad and miss the nuances in terms of what “bad” really means.  It is in these nuances, the ability to label and explain our experience that is the buffer from stress. According to Kashdan, if you are capable of understanding and labeling all your emotions, you will have a 40% reduction in the ill effects of the negative situation.

This makes a lot of sense to me.  However, our culture supports a manifesting, bulldozer attitude likely to make even the most capable person feel like a failure at some point.  Our attitude with creative entrepreneurs is that they should be doing all the time and if they are not doing they are failing.  What entrepreneurs and creatives alike need to do is get to know themselves well enough so that they can decide what works best for them individually. As a psychologist, I can attest that many people (especially those that are highly sensitive and creative) do not have these skills and it is in the lack of social-emotional skills that lay the triggers for suffering.

There is wisdom in learning to better understand your emotions and your stress.  This is why mindfulness is an important skill for some people to learn, but even mindfulness has its limitations when it comes to creativity.  Mindfulness needs to be balanced with mindlessness in order to innovate and create. It is why many business people get their most creative ideas when they travel on vacation.

Learning who you are is imperative to understanding how you best function.  In Kashdan’s book, he highlights research identifying the difference between being positive optimists and defensive pessimists.  In a separate research study by Dr. Julie Norem and Dr. Edward Chang found that positive optimists performed better in a dart throwing scenario when they relaxed first rather than thinking negatively, but the defensive pessimists did better when they were allowed to think strategically about the negative outcomes.  Defensive pessimists do perform better under stressful situations when they can strategize before the task. Further, they seem to handle negative emotions better and do not fall apart the way some positive optimists do – their lowest lows being not so low in comparison to others.

It is your relationship with yourself and your internal experience that matter most.  Knowing if you are really a positive optimist or someone who is naturally more of a defensive pessimist can help you navigate strategies to reframe whatever is causing you stress as an opportunity rather than a hurdle.  

Often, when we wish to avoid all negative emotions we actually end up causing our own misfortune.  Stress often has a story to tell, but we have to be willing to listen. It could be telling us that we are on the wrong life path, that something horrible is about to happen, or that our creative project is off in some way.

The only way to be able to hear these opportunities is to get to know yourself really well and choose to act from that framework.  One size fits all advice simply does not work. The human condition is far too complicated– and that’s a good thing. We just have to be careful that creatives don’t fall victim to the notion that productivity is what creativity is about. There is nothing creative about the mass production of work that is made simply to sell. Or about sending emotionally sensitive people the message that they are, again, not good enough.

The message from this line of research is clear, know yourself and just do you. Don’t avoid the emotions or that voice in your head.  There is wisdom in taking a step back to listen.

A Closer Look at Gallery Structures Through Examining Chelsea Galleries

by Netanel Saso

Located on the far west side of Manhattan just above the Chelsea Market is the Chelsea art gallery district, which is one of the world’s pivotal locations for selling and showcasing contemporary art. These galleries are at the forefront, as they lead the auction market and cover more ground at art fairs globally. Have you ever wondered why these galleries are for the public, yet often times, the public is incapable of emotionally entering them? Though I have specifically conducted research by walking through multiple Chelsea Galleries, this information extends to galleries I have entered throughout the five boroughs. If you have ever tried to enter a gallery anywhere in the world and left within the first two minutes, you are not alone. The initial fear of entering a gallery starts with a galleries exterior presentation and can be broken down even further through the way artwork gets hung and how gallery attendants treat their visitors and potential customers upon entry. Though the Chelsea galleries showcase art to the public for free, when you walk from gallery to gallery, you begin to notice an almost identical space that has become more about the art market and the economy, than the work that is housed within it.

The Chelsea galleries are very difficult to get to with public transportation, and this is the first sign that shows how they have placed the market first. Within the article “Contemporary Art: A ‘Global’ and Local Perspective via New York’s Chelsea District”, it is stated that over 95% of the people who go to these galleries, are simply going to look at the work. There is something ironic about how this many people view the exhibits, but have a difficult time getting to the galleries. There is a reason why the Chelsea galleries are also situated so closely next to each other, and that is because they will generate a flow of people, especially on opening nights. In correlation to how difficult it is to get to these galleries, they are all identical in the way they present themselves. There is a common thread these galleries share in their outdoor features that comprise of, large windows, tinted gray glass that does not allow you to see into the gallery space, and a small decal of the name of the gallery placed on the door or to the right or left of the door. Not only does this make it difficult to get to the gallery you really want to go to, but it puts the public at a separation from the work itself. It is as if the location of these galleries should already be known, and this is apparent because Pace Gallery is the only gallery to have a sign that actually extends on to the street to indicate where it is, but even their signage is not, “trying hard enough”. Perhaps the tinting of the glass is to get people to go inside, rather than having them look within from the outside, and make up their mind on whether or not they want to go inside. A majority of the galleries that I visited embrace the industrial aesthetic, as they have white walls, exposed pipe, and even stainless steel throughout the space. The most interesting aspect, is how the gallery places their name with a small typeface onto their space. This is a disguise, as they are ultimately trying to separate themselves from the work that they present to make it look as though it is all about the work they are exhibiting.

The article entitled “Contemporary Art: A ‘Global’ and Local Perspective via New York’s Chelsea District” points out the major topics that make up the content on view in the Chelsea galleries. These topics are made up of Landscapes, Sex, Decorative/Abstract, Troubled Nuclear Family, Natural Forms/Man-Made Basic Materials, Poor and Those in Trouble, Mass Production/Commodities, and Political Art. Because landscapes as a topic is in the top percentage of what is shown in the galleries, it is clear that their main goal is to show work that is sellable. Upon visiting multiple galleries, there was only one I visited that told me they were showing a few pieces that were on loan, and not for sale. Because most galleries are commercial, it leads to the belief that only the top galleries in the district, are able to have a show with a few pieces that are not for sale. This however is a clever act as these galleries know to stage a show with some pieces on loan, to create a sense of elevation and emersion when there are multiple works on view by the same artist. This actually might help them sell even more work, because some of the pieces are unattainable. As you walk through Chelsea, you begin to notice that a few galleries have multiple gallery spaces. When I asked one gallery attendant in front of a gallery why this was, she said that it allows them to cover more ground and display more work. I would argue that it is because these are some of the top galleries within Chelsea, and with more space to exhibit, they will be able to sell more works in one shot and look more important to prospective consumers. By owning multiple different venues, they create a sense of validation in their success that could be misleading, but ultimately fruitful for selling work.

Within the Chelsea galleries, there seems to be a code that all of the galleries follow in relation to how work gets installed. Most times, a visitor can enter a gallery and look at a presentation of work that has clearly not been crafted by the artist. If you compare a gallery to a museum that has a set curatorial team, and alters the architecture of one of its galleries to enhance the work it presents, a gallery almost never changes their interior to assist the artist.  It is almost as if you could take one artist’s body of work and rotate it through each gallery space in Chelsea, and it would be displayed exactly the same from location to location. The strategy is to align work to look like a catalogue that would allow a potential buyer to easily walk by each piece and choose the work they want. This instantly places the value of the work above the meaning of the work that gets presented. This is most likely why people feel as though they should not enter a gallery as it is crafted to look like a space to make a sale rather than a place to learn about art. As each gallery space is decluttered and very organized, visitors loose the element of surprise that art carries, and gain a feeling of expectancy before entry to each gallery. This is detrimental to the artist as visitors can already categorize them in relation to other galleries across Chelsea before even seeing their work.

Not only is there a code that galleries in Chelsea follow in relation to the organization of artwork, but there seems to be a similar manner of treatment that an individual receives upon entry to each gallery. Have you ever had a moment when you walked into a gallery and felt as though you do not belong even though it is free to the public? You are not alone, as I am an art student, and I still feel as though I should not be walking into a gallery on most days that I try to. I can’t remember a time that I entered a gallery and was greeted by an attendant. In my experience, I have never gotten a smile, a name, a welcome, or an attendant to greet me and discuss the work on view with me. Often times, I feel as though I am the only one in a gallery space and that I could perform an artist heist at any moment, and nobody would notice. Gallery attendants hide behind their desks, look at their phones and computers most of the time, and are rarely there to help answer visitor’s questions. This is an issue, not just because it is disrespectful, but it does not take into consideration the fact that a visitor might be interested in purchasing a work of art. This is harmful to not only the gallery, but the artist, as the attendants do not make it a necessity to educate visitors on the work or engage them in questions about it. As the gallery has already figured out its clients, it has also established who it’s prime visitors are, and those are ones that are educated in the arts. You can look at the secrecy as a potential marketing scheme to make potential buyers feel as though they really need to have a certain work. This however is a strategy that needs to be broken, as galleries across the world take art, what is meant to be inclusive, and make it exclusive. Though there is no solution to this issue, it is important to notice when a gallery has made a shift from this repetitive act, and see if there is a possibility for it to be replicated.

The shift of galleries that moved from SoHo to Chelsea show how gentrification is constantly being conducted. Soon enough, the rent will go up for all of the galleries in Chelsea, and they might be forced to move to another location or shut down entirely. Though the Chelsea galleries reflect off of each other and place the market first, it is still important to go to them to be able to understand more of how they function, and see if the work within them changes over time. Next time you feel as though you should not enter a gallery space, ask yourself why, and maybe write a letter to the gallery to let them know. There is always a place to start to make a difference, and though these galleries might be aware of what they are doing, they can’t make a change until they have heard from the public.

Why Emotional Intelligence is the Most Important Trait an Artist Can Have

The development of the internet has vastly impacted the entire world of art. While certain technologies has created entirely new mediums of art, such as filmmaking and web design, the internet has provided a platform for artists that has created an entirely new art market. This quickly developing online art market is not only changing how artists and art collectors interact, but redefining the definition of artist. In this age of the creative entrepreneur, even traditional galleries and auction houses will have to develop new skill sets in order to sell art in the rapidly changing market. The artist of today will need to be able to build a strong network of people who will both showcase and purchase their work. And one of the most important skills that an artist needs to establish these connections is emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) has been cited as one of the most important traits that leads to success for just about any profession. It includes the emotional monitoring of the self and of those around you. Essentially, it can be broken down into four categories: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Self-awareness if the ability to correctly perceive and understand your own emotions and what has caused them, while self-management is the ability to apply this knowledge to healthy responses to these emotions. Social awareness is the ability to accurately sense the emotions of other people, and relationship management is using your self- and social awareness to build meaningful and strong connections with others, and through these connections inspire others.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important to Artists?

Emotional intelligence is one of the most valuable skills an artist can have. On the business end of being an artist, you need emotional intelligence to interact with art buyers, collaborators, and art sellers. The more emotionally intelligent you are in these interactions, the more people will be drawn to buy and sell your art. Creating a strong network is crucial for an artist’s success, and having a higher EQ leads to more success with networking.

Even further, higher emotional intelligence has been linked to better creative performance. Creatives with a higher EQ are better at mediating frustrations that come with creative failure and therefore are able to navigate their own emotions during the creative process better, ultimately reaching a better creative result than their lower-EQ counterparts. Therefore, emotional intelligence not only helps with the business side of art, but the actual creative side as well.

Do I Have Emotional Intelligence? How Do I Gain EQ?

When thinking about your own level of emotional intelligence, try to evaluate things like how you deal with distressing emotions or whether you can sense the emotions of the people around you. Daniel Goleman, author of the book Emotional Intelligence, posted a survey on LinkedIn that gives you an idea of your own emotional intelligence. If you are looking to increase your emotional intelligence, a good place to start is being aware of your own emotions and the emotions of others. You do not have to act on this awareness, just simply note how you are feeling. Once you master self and social awareness, you will be able to work on your self-management and eventually relationship management, which is the most important quality when it comes to your professional success.

The Challenges I Face as a Creative Entrepreneur

by Netanel Saso

 

As a VAR fellow, I will be working towards starting my own business, and the intention to do that alone, can bring out the dreaded “artist block”. Though everyone has their own definition of an artist block, it does not solely apply to people working in a creative field.  I look at it as a period of time that could span anywhere from a day to a few years where people feel as though they can’t progress with their careers because they do not have the inspiration or drive to do so. Artist blocks are typically interpreted as an issue, but they should be seen as a blessing in disguise.

I know that sounds crazy, but think about the last time you had a block, and what you were doing right before you got that block. For example, when I get an artist block, it typically comes after I have spent an abundance of time on a project I was super passionate about. A block is not only based on the inability to move forward, but is also a stage of mourning for what has been completed. Often time’s people forget to reward themselves as well as reflect on the work that they accomplished, and instead, just try to move to the next thing. This time should be valued and should be seen as a necessary state of healing. Though someone going through an artist block might not have another idea for a project in their mind right away, the ability to learn from mistakes or figure out what worked best while working on the last project is important for making the next project more efficient.

The time that you have during an artist block is also important for growth, because it allows you to assess your strengths and weaknesses. How you decide to spend time during an artist block, or how you are able to get out of one, will tell you more about yourself then when you finally get to work through a project. What is ironic is how most people have gone through the same artist block over and over again, and have yet to find a way to detect its start. This aspect of detecting the point of transition is important so you have the ability to organize how you will go through it. For example, I recently finished working on a durational art piece that took 3 months to complete. I have always known that my art takes a long time to complete because it is labor intensive, so when I finished the piece, I immediately caught myself starting to repeat the same process that I would repeat every time I finished an art work prior to it. I would normally stop making work for a week or two, and start fearing and questioning how I could be an artist if I ran out of ideas. Though in the back of my mind I still knew that I had no idea for what my next project was, I was able to change my usual approach and instead of constantly questioning myself, I started to ask others about my work instead. I showed my work to anybody who would look at it and realized that the amount of feedback I was getting was enough for me to conduct so much research that another project idea came to me in no time! I was able to prove to myself that though I was going through an artist block, I was able to make the most out of it by looking at it as an art piece in itself. There was the intent to make it, the process, and the final result, which is definitely not a block to me!

How the Founder of VAR Reclaimed Her Family History and Transformed It Into a Career She Loves

For Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes, the family business wasn’t just in art education. After years of watching negotiations, arguments, and entitled “Donald Trumpesque” behaviors of the men running her family business, she was prompted to return to her own personal values. After a long and challenging professional, familial, and personal journey, she is ready to empower a new generation of artists to manifest their dreams with the emotional support she wished she had received at a younger age.

 

Visual Arts Reimagined (VAR) is a new entrepreneurial consultation service designed specifically for young artists who wish to start a less than ordinary art career. The program is defined by its cutting edge and forward thinking nature, which results from founder Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes’ experience in dealing with the men running her family business her entire life.  While she had a great relationship with her grandfather, Silas Rhodes, the rest of her family struggled with embracing the spirit of collaboration, positivity, inclusiveness and love. The mismatch between these core values and SVA’s administrative values prompted Dr. Rhodes to move past her family business and create a service that embraced a commitment to healthy relationships and the spirit of innovation that her grandfather, Silas Rhodes, was known for. This spirit that her grandfather embraced– a spirit of working with and uplifting other people– closely parallels what we consider an entrepreneurial spirit these days. Silas Rhodes was ahead of his time– he established a nurturing environment that allowed creatives to flourish.

 

Because she was the first girl born into the family, she immediately had a special bond with her grandparents, especially her grandfather. Dr. Rhodes’ mother made sure that consistency in their family life was a priority given that her father had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder just a few years prior.  Everyone in the family struggled to make sense of how best to support him during a time of limited understanding of such illnesses. “Ever since I was young I’ve had a really close relationship with my grandfather,” Rhodes explains, “In my very early childhood years, I have very fond memories of going to my grandparents house every Sunday, and my grandparents were really good at keeping us in a routine, making sure we had a really great relationship with them. But things were definitely a little chaotic– because with my dad, things would be really good for a couple of years and then get bad again. So at the time, the consistency of going to Sunday night dinners at my grandparents house was really good for me as a child.”

 

As Dr. Rhodes grew, family discord became an unfortunate regular routine.  It would take her years to realize that emotional communication was a family weakness and there was not much motivation to truly learn how to be compassionate with each other.   During her childhood, Dr. Rhodes found solace and support from her teachers and mentors all the way through school. “School was always a safe place for me,” Dr. Rhodes explains,  “No matter what was going on at home, I could receive support from my teachers.” Due to her empathic and quiet nature, Dr. Rhodes excelled all the way through school until the death of her father at the age of 15. During this time, anxiety really took its toll and affected her scores on her SATs.  With persistence and drive, she eventually found herself at Sarah Lawrence College where a major corrective life experience took place. SLC nurtured and incubated Dr. Rhodes and gave her the support she needed to begin her healing journey. It was the first time that her creativity was valued.

 

During one summer in between years at SLC, Dr. Rhodes asked to work at SVA. She was tasked with conducting research for the admissions department, which was then led by Rick Longo.   Mr. Longo tasked Dr. Rhodes to solve the diversity gap by conducting research into why there was an underrepresentation of people of color applying to art school. Her research uncovered a simple fact – that the mere request for an essay deterred many students from applying. Her research was then applied to the admissions process, benefitting SVA and students alike. It was a time where her innovation in visual arts education reform was first valued and seen by a major institution, and predicted her future innovations in the field.

 

Dr. Rhodes continued her academic journey and went on to complete her Psy.D.  She graduated with an APA-accredited internship from Tulane University Medical School in 2008.  Dr. Rhodes’ experience of being a pioneer was birthed in New Orleans when she was a part of the first group of trainees allowed back into the city post-Katrina.  However, her experience was clouded by the death of her grandfather the day before she left to start her internship. She was devastated by his loss. “I really struggled to finish my dissertation that year– I did graduate and finish everything on time, but I did not enjoy the process. Things in my family changed and got really stressful after that.” Tulane, however, was a warm nurturing environment that pushed Dr. Rhodes to learn humility, communication skills, and ultimately what she really wanted out of her career.

 

After finishing her PsyD, she lost the job offer she had initially received due to budget cuts during the economic recession in 2008. She was devastated. The job was what she thought was her dream job, an opportunity to replicate an early intervention program in the family court system, had been withdrawn.  She was told that the only way the position could be saved was if she left her post-doctoral program six months early. With the support of Tulane she said no– which ended up being her first entrepreneurial decision– and decided to take a second fellowship in San Diego. She eventually made her way to San Francisco but was suffering the consequences of burnout. During this time, she surrendered to the fact that her career did not seem fully on track.  Eventually, she came to realized that San Francisco was a creative and supportive environment. “During that time I, for the first time, gave myself the permission to just explore and figure out what it is I really wanted to do.” She realized that traditional psychology was not her calling and she was encouraged to embrace her new title of “entrepreneur.”

 

Dr. Rhodes eventually started a relationship consultation firm that, over time, began working with creative professionals in unique ways.  It wasn’t long after that she found herself thinking back to her family business. While SVA was the best at what it did before, Dr. Rhodes quickly realized that they were falling behind many liberal arts schools with strong visual arts programs. She also realized that what she found to be working in her relationship practice was something that students were not receiving from their institutions of higher education. “We need to start over again and create a program that gives artists what they used to have in the 1940s,” Dr. Rhodes explains, “when my grandfather first started the school, he went and bought many of the students their first suit to go interview afterwards.” At the start of SVA, students got the relational and emotional support they needed without the bureaucracy.

 

Rhodes claims that few institutes of higher education are giving students this type of support, and consequently established Visual Arts Reimagined (VAR) — a modern, entrepreneurial consultation service for young artists and other creatives based in relationship science. Rhodes understands that the art education industry needs to move towards interdisciplinary, innovative, and entrepreneurial teaching philosophies in order to prepare students for the modern work world. Like her grandfather did with SVA, Dr. Rhodes is pioneering a new educational paradigm for artists that is original and groundbreaking. What artists need in this day and age is to be prepared for the entrepreneurial world, but with the support and advice from psychology and business professionals. What is holding visual artists from being seen and remarked in the professional world is not their lack of innovation and talent, but rather their need for the knowledge of how to communicate their ideas with non creatives and effectively market their work to the public. VAR serves to encompass all of the crucial elements that a career in art requires, but were not taught in art school. Ultimately, Rhodes acknowledges the influence that her family, and especially her grandfather, had on her career. “Not only is it my story,” she says, “but it is my right to own that story and it is my right to say that I want to work with artists, but in a different way.”  

 

She dedicates the development of her program to her father, a greatly misunderstood creative, who was not giving the right support to thrive and bring his unique gifts to the world and to her mother who tirelessly supported both of her children, at the expense of her own development, to give them what they needed most.  She also dedicates the development of VAR to her grandmother, Beatrice, who made her promise that she would never rely on a man for money and that she would complete her education.

 

Learn more about VAR and Dr. Rhodes at visualartsreimagined.com.

How to Get Yourself Out of a Creative Block

For an artist, there is no feeling more frustrating than that of a creative block. They seem to come out of nowhere, and usually at the most inconvenient time. What’s worse is that it feels like nothing can get you out of this rut. You’re just stuck. Sometimes, though, it may be easier than you think to get yourself back into your creative flow. Check out these tips on what to do if you find yourself suffering from a creative block.

Put your work aside for a bit.

Now, I know that for some full-time working artists or art students, this may not always be an option. But if you have another project that you’ve been neglecting, or have other things to get done, try attending to those before you get back to your work. Sometimes, your best ideas come to you when you are doing something completely unrelated to your art. Do you have chores to do? An essay to write? Do these things before returning to your art. For me, my best creative ideas always come when I’m in a car. So whenever I’m artistically stuck, I get in my car and start driving around, running errands. The idea behind this is that your creativity will start to flow once you stop forcing it. If you let it come naturally, chances are you will be able ride your creative wave for much longer.

Find some clarity.

I once had a professor tell me that writer’s block stems from a place of self-consciousness. You’re worrying about whether or not your art is good enough, or truly a representation of you, or whether people will like it. All of these busy and negative thoughts are the enemy to creating. You need to free yourself from your unproductive thought processes in order to make your art. And this type of thinking looks different for everyone: some people can’t stop comparing themselves to others, some can’t shake the daunting thought of other people judging their work, and some people are their own worst enemy, harshly over-critiquing everything they create. The best way to get yourself out of this thinking is going to differ from person to person too, so I suggest trying a bunch of different things and finding out what works best for you. Maybe you need to take ten minutes to meditate and ground yourself in the present moment. Maybe you can achieve this by going for a run. Or maybe you will best find clarity by spending some time in nature. Finding the ways in which you can best take care of yourself and clear your mind will ultimately benefit your art.

Collaborate.

Art is not meant to always be a solo project. Creativity is a wonderful thing to be shared with others, and is sometimes best inspired in a collaborative setting. If you have the beginning workings of an idea, call up a friend or colleague and tell them about it. Or if you are in a place where you can’t come up with any ideas at all, ask someone else about their current projects. Maybe if you’re both in a creative block, you can start a new project together. Collaboration is a huge part of making art, and it is what brings about communities of artists. And it is also the beauty of having community within art–there is support from other people when you alone are having a tough time. Don’t shy away from reaching out to your fellow artists as a resource.

And just remember that this creative block, like everything else in life, is only temporary. It’s frustrating and super inconvenient, but it will pass. My best advice is to not get too hung up in that moment, and it will eventually work itself out. Sometimes all it takes is to lift your foot off the gas pedal, and those creative ideas will return naturally. Good luck, and keep creating!

Q&A With Women of Culture Founder, Alexandra Harper

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes, the founder of Visual Arts Reimagined interviews the founder of Women of Culture Alexandra Harper. We hope you enjoy this Q & A, and join Women of Culture!

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

How did Women of Culture Start?

A : Alexandra Harper

I started my career in marketing and then transitioned to graphic design. However, the whole time I was feeling a lack of connection to the arts and especially other women. I had been a contemporary dancer as a child and always been interested in the arts but I didn’t really know a lot of other women that were really engaged with the arts in the way that I wanted to be. I went to an all girls boarding school, and always had a lot of girlfriends but a lot of my friends got married and moved out of the city. I started missing the amazing comradery that you get when you spend time in a community of women. I started thinking about how I could bring these two interests together into something that would be fulfilling to myself and other people. I was meditating a lot at this point in my life and thought to myself,  what if I bring women together which is something I had already been doing with my friends, but on a larger scale. I wanted to bring women together that didn’t necessarily know each other and were also interested in experiencing the arts while sharing my love for the arts with them and see what would happen!

Initially I didn’t know if there would be any people that would show up or be interested but I put a listing on meet up and a bunch of people came. It was a little over two years ago, and some of the people that first came to the very first event still come to the events now. There has definitely been a lot of repeat people, and people have formed friendships from the group that have lasted outside of the group as well. For me the most fulfilling part is having women come that wouldn’t get to see these events or have these experiences on their own. There are women that never went to a dance performance before, and now there are women that love it and that go all the time.

Picture from a recent Women of Culture event.
Photo credit: Netanel Saso

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

How old is women of culture?

A : Alexandra Harper

Technically I did my very first event in november of 2015 with mostly friends as I was testing it out. My first real event was in January of 2016.
Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

How do you get the word out about your events?

A : Alexandra Harper

Meetup has been a great tool, as well as social media and word of mouth. The majority of people still come from meet up. I also try to go out and do in person networking.

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

Have you gotten any any push back about not including men in your events?

A : Alexandra Harper

I think that I personally feel awkward about talking to men about why there is an element of exclusion. The purpose is not to exclude, especially because there have been men at open panel discussions. I believe that for me the focus was to bring women together, and when you bring men into it, things just shift. Of course it is not bad, and I guess the argument in all women organizations is how men have had their own clubs that have excluded us for so many years. I thought alot about if I would open it to men or if there would be opportunity in the future to have certain events be co ed and I am definitely open to it, but have not found a way to go about it just yet. It would definitely have to be purposeful though.

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

Since you started in 2015, had there been a favorite event that you have hosted?

A : Alexandra Harper

I ask members this question a lot, and I believe that my favorite was an art in the garden party in fall of 2016. This was a pop up art show in partnership with another woman, and the artist came to the event as well. It was a really hot day and then it started raining so we had to bring all of the artwork indoors and it was kind of a disaster but at the same time it was a very unique event. I love any time that there is an event with an artist because it helps everyone who comes to the events understand the art more. I am very  fascinated with artist’s and that will to create something whether people like it or not. A lot of it can be commercial and they have to think about marketing themselves, but it is still so much of their soul that they put out into the world. I am always so in awe of them.

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

Have you seen any trends or changes in the last three years and in the artistic community in New York?

A : Alexandra Harper

If we are talking about visual art there is a lot of work that is trying to be very shocking that is currently being made. I think because artists are trying to sell their work or get attention, there is a lot of work that is just weird to be weird. I understand the need to be innovative and push the envelope. I like a lot of conceptual work, but sometimes it goes to far.

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

Do you have a favorite section of the city for galleries? If you were going to plan your own personal day for art and culture, where would you go and what would you do?

A : Alexandra Harper

That is the best thing about the city is that there is so much to see. Women of Culture just did a lower east side gallery tour, and it was amazing. There is a lot of street art there, and I love all of the restaurants and boutiques. I love that area, as well as Bushwick in Brooklyn. It is hard to pick one place because I always like Chelsea as well. I love the old school big galleries in Chelsea, but now I really want to learn more about the lower east side gallery scene.

Q : From the Crowd

Is Women of Culture your full time job?

A : Alexandra Harper

I am still working part time at Johnson and Johnson as a graphic designer and trying to balance the two worlds.

Q : From the Crowd

How did your graphic design background assist with Women of Culture?

A : Alexandra Harper

Obviously Women of Culture is way different than sitting behind a computer. Being able to create my own graphics and logo as well as use my marketing skills was definitely helpful. I do wish that I studied social media though!

Q : From the Crowd

Before you started the company, did you find any competitors?

A : Alexandra Harper

I definitely looked at other meetups and networking groups. While there are a lot of professional networking groups out there geared towards women, none of them were solely geared towards the arts.

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

Why do you think that is if New York is still the epicenter for art? Why is the idea of socializing and doing cultural things not a priority?

A : Alexandra Harper

I feel as though it is something that people do more and more. It seems to be more of something to do rather than something that people are actually interested in. Part of my wanting to start Women of Culture was noticing that the arts are not prioritized in our society. When I lived in France, there was such a different appreciation level of people going to a museum and really being into it rather than having it be something to just do. I got upset and frustrated when asking friends to go to a $50 show and they would say no and instead would go out and spend $150 at a bar. Sometimes I think there is a gender dynamic. I can’t say the arts are necessarily feminine but it seems to be something women are more drawn to especially when comparing male pass times like sports. Not to make a huge generalization, but there is a bigger emphasis and priority put on sports in our society. I even felt that in school, as being artsy was questioned because art is not a high paying career. There is a lot left to learn about this topic though. I joke because my mom has really gotten into football now.  

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

What team does she root for?

A : Alexandra Harper

She roots for the patriots!

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

Do you have any big goals for the up and coming year?

A : Alexandra Harper

I am definitely trying to grow and get the word out as well as build a membership. I am still trying to decide on the future direction and see if I will eventually move the business to LA.

Q : Dr. Jennifer Rhodes

Is there anything that you want people to know about Women of Culture, or about you to assess whether it is a good fit for them?

A : Alexandra Harper

I would say that the main misconception that I have not done a good job of dispilling is that it is not necessarily for people in the arts. A lot of people ask me if they have to be an artist or work in the arts to join and it is not at all true. It is much more geared towards people that are not necessarily in the arts or that might have some exposure but would like to learn more. I have thought a lot about how to involve and benefit artists in the group. I am really open to meeting and talking to artists and figuring out how we can benefit them. Women of Culture is all about building patronage for the arts and elevating arts in society as a whole.

We thank you so much for coming and sharing your story with us Alex!

Women of Culture: An Organization That Creates a Passionate Community of Artists

by Netanel Saso

As a VAR fellow, one of my goals is to meet creative entrepreneurs and find out how they started their brands in order to gain knowledge that will help me start my own brand down the line. The team at VAR recently sat down with the founder of Women of Culture named Alexandra Harper (check out our Q&A with Harper here). Not only did we sit down with the founder, but I got to attend two of her events myself, and can’t wait for you to hear about them.

Alexandra started her career in marketing and then transitioned into graphic design, and is now the founder of Women of Culture. As sitting behind a computer is much different than the organization she started, she was able to use her background in both fields to help her design and get the word out about her organization in November of 2015. Women of Culture grew out of a necessity to share a passion and love for art with other people. Alexandra went to an all girls boarding school, and realized that she started to “miss the amazing comradery that you get when you spend time in a community of women”. Another push that made Alexandra start her own organization was when she would ask her friends to go with her to an art event, but instead they would rather go to a bar. This is a common issue that you find in America, as people attend events because it is just something to do rather than something to be passionate about while doing. At that point, she started researching to see if anyone started an organization that was solely for women to experience the arts, and noticed that there were none out there. Once she listed her first event up on Meetup, she was able to get the attention of many women across New York City and realize, that her passion for helping people experience the arts, especially those who might not go out to events alone, would be possible!

As of today, Women of Culture hosts open panel discussions with artists and creative entrepreneurs, as well as going out to experience museum and gallery tours, and theater and dance performances within the city. Though Women of Culture is only for women, Alexandra has been thinking of ways to incorporate men into future events. As of right now, men are able to come to open panel discussions. While the events are very affordable, my favorite part is that you do not have to be working in the arts to attend, in fact, you can have little to no experience with an art form, and be welcomed into the organization! This is really important because in our society today, many people form an initial fear before entering a gallery space. This organization helps you overcome that fear as you are able to experience and talk about those fears with like minded individuals in a gallery setting. Not only does this organization help you network and make lifelong friends, but it helps you get out of your comfort zone, as it exposes you to something you might have never known you would love!  

After going to these two events, I can wholeheartedly say that Women of Culture is one of the best meet up organizations I have ever been to. I noticed that it is for all ages, and is a great way to have fun yet still acquire educational information after a long work day, or a long day of college or high school classes. As most meetup organizations meet on weekends, the fact that events are offered during the week is quite special as well. Though it is still growing, I have met different people at each event, and noticed that everyone who attends is very excited to be there and learn, which truly makes it an engaging and memorable experience. I already made a friend at one of the events that I can’t wait to keep in touch with! Now what might be the absolute best part of this organization, is how Alexandra focuses on “building patronage for the arts and elevating arts in the society as a whole”. The first event that I went on was a lower east side gallery tour that was given by Merrily Kerr, and the second event I went to was an open panel discussion with Kristina Adduci, Holly Hager and Beckie Warren which focused on their startup companies within the arts. By providing a space and allowing artists and women to speak, Alexandra not only provides a space for women to gain knowledge, but provides a space for women to share what they have learned as well. One of her main goals for the new year is to connect with more artists and allow them to speak at her future events too!

The lower east side gallery tour that I went on was very inspiring to me because I realized that I was experiencing most of the galleries for the first time along with the women that were there as well. The tour guide Merrily Kerr structured the tour by giving us information about the history of the gallery we would be going into, the history of the artist or the artwork we would see, and a few rem

VAR Fellow Netanel (left) and intern Baruni (right) at a Women of Culture event on the Lower East Side.

arks on how she felt about the work, as well as questions that would allow the group to have conversations after we split up to walk around each gallery space for ourselves. This was a great structure as there was never a moment of feeling as though the tour guide was overpowering us or telling us what to do or how to feel about an artist. As a student at university, I feel that in class critiques, there are always moments where people do not know how to actually critique work. Women of Culture is a great way to get out there and learn or start to feel comfortable actually trying out critiquing work, or even starting to learn what kind of artwork or theater or dance you are most interested in.

The open panel discussion that I went to was one of the most captivating open panel discussions that I have been to yet! When I first arrived, I entered a house that was also a new digital media gallery. The event was inviting because we were literally in someone’s house, and got to talk before the event even started. Once the event started, I quickly started to feel how much emotion was flooding throughout the room. All three speakers created separate companies embedded in helping artists, and sharing their passion for art. Beckie Warren started Girl Sees Art, which is a blog on instagram that exposes people of all backgrounds to many different kinds of artwork. Not only does Beckie hold this account, but she also curates shows. Kristina Adduci started Art Zealous which is a media and news company that highlights the importance of the arts. Lastly, Holly Hager created Curatious which is a website that allows people of all backgrounds to respond to images of work and write what they think about it, but also see how others react to a work. Her goal is to have the ability to let artists of any skill level to upload their work and receive reactions to the work as well. Not only do these three women juggle their own businesses, but they gather together every month to help one women who might be unnoticed in the art world yet, or might only have a few pieces of art, and do a studio visit with them as well as highlight them on their websites. As I was listening to these women speak, I realized how much passion they had, and how important it is for people to hear their stories. Holly Hager even cried at one point when describing what art means to her. This event was an absolute reminder as to why I love art, as well as how there is still so much that needs to be resolved within the art world as well.

Overall, I highly recommend going to one of the Women of Culture events, and supporting a woman who gives artists and entrepreneurs a chance to share their story. I might even see you at one of the next events!

Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and the Vulnerability of Creative Entrepreneurs to Mental Illness

by Isabel Lamont and Baruni Sharma

The other week, the world was devastated with the news of fashion designer and creative entrepreneur Kate Spade’s passing. Only three days later, we found out that another creative entrepreneur, renowned chef and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain, had also died. And what is even more devastating is that both of these deaths were caused by suicide.

What puts creative entrepreneurs at such a high risk for anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses? At first glance, it seems as though these two individuals had it all: they were famous, successful, and had made meaningful impacts on countless people around the world. Yet, while on paper they appeared to live a picture-perfect life, the reality of a creative entrepreneur is wildly different from what the public sees, and the reality of a person with depression is vastly different from what any other person sees.

The Unique Journey of a Creative Entrepreneur

The journey of a creative entrepreneur is unique to that of any other field. While many entrepreneurs strive to develop something to better the world, as a creative entrepreneur you do this in a way that is intrinsically connected to yourself– through your craft. A regular entrepreneur has a vision, but the creative entrepreneur possesses a unique artistic vision inseparable from their own personality and character. Art is an expression of the self– it is one of the most vulnerable things someone can put out into the world. This is the difference between creative entrepreneurs and the rest: while a typical entrepreneur can remove themself from the product to a certain degree, creative entrepreneurs simply cannot. You are offering a part of yourself to the world, which makes the highs and lows of your journey far more extreme.

Courtesy of The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/fashion/kate-spade-dead.html

And that’s the thing about being an entrepreneur: the nature of the profession calls for a rollercoaster ride that doesn’t seem to end. It’s incredibly exciting, but also painfully unstable at times. The side most people don’t see of entrepreneurship is that you are constantly pitching your vision to just about everyone, from friends to major companies. And you are constantly getting rejected.

When someone enthusiastically hops on board with your vision, it gives you an insurmountable feeling of joy and acceptance. But when those rejections start coming in, it creates a deep cut. When creative entrepreneurs experience rejection, it is so much more than a rejection of vision– it is a rejection of the self. And that’s an extreme emotion to experience time and time again. It eventually will wear you down.

Mental Health Research Shows Creatives are at Higher Risk

A study published by the Felix Post in 1996 suggested that most creative personalities around the world had more distinguishable personality traits and problems with substance abuse than the general population. The prevalence of mental disorders, particularly depression, are alarmingly common amongst famous personalities in the creative arts fields. It is, however, debatable whether the depression is a cause or an effect of such creativity.

Anthony Bourdain, courtesy of NBC News.
https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/celebrity/anthony-bourdain-celebrity-chef-parts-unknown-host-dies-61-n881251

It has been commonly said that, in order to perform or create, one must feel. A writer, a painter and an actor alike must have felt some sort of pain to project their emotions onto their work. But even further, the underappreciation of such creative geniuses can be a major cause of depression, and thereafter, suicide; which we have seen even centuries before.

Depressive disorders, especially since the 1960’s, have been largely ignored or misdiagnosed. Those with depression are usually given negative labels, such as lazy or dramatic, and proper care is rarely given to these people. The lack of attention given to mental health has been a cause of an alarmingly high number of suicides all over the world.

The aforementioned study also highlights a higher prevalence of bipolar disorder amongst poets than other playwrights and writers. However, poets were otherwise least affected by other common problems such as alcoholism, depression,and other conflicts in personal life. In another study by a Swedish group of researchers from the Karolinska Institute found that persons in the creative arts field such as dancers, photographers and authors were 8% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than the average population. Writers, in fact, were 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Furthermore, men in the creative arts fields are less exposed to depression and other mental illnesses than women in the same fields.

Another very vulnerable group of people are those who have had the courage to start their own businesses. Entrepreneurs, due to the consistent rejection and failure in the initial months of their business, are found more susceptible to giving in to the thought of commiting suicide. To exacerbate these situations, it is also harder for entrepreneurs to ask for help in fear of hearing the “I told you so’s”. It was only after Brad Feld, an established entrepreneur, started talking about the shame associated with his depression, did a conversation start revolving around entrepreneurial mental health.

Ultimately, while research reveals the higher association of mental illness with both creatives and entrepreneurs, the effect that working in a field that is both entrepreneurial and creative has on an individual is compounded.

How Do We Create a Better Future for Creative Entrepreneurs?

I wish that the answer was as simple as suggesting a diet change, or telling people to exercise, or something like practicing mindfulness. I wish it was even as simple as checking in on your friends and loved ones, as we have been reminded to do incessantly these past couple of weeks. Sadly, it’s not as straightforward as that. Because the truth is, depression is such a serious disease, and while these aforementioned things may alleviate someone’s struggle or symptoms, in order for things to get better, changes need to happen at a much larger scale.

First, there needs to be more mental health professionals working with creative entrepreneurs, and giving them the help that they specifically need. This means that there needs to be an increase in therapists and psychologists who specialize in mental health for creatives. Even further, these specialists should be asking creative entrepreneurs what it is they specifically need or struggle with, and coming up with creative solutions to help them.

Also, we unfortunately live in a world where how much you produce is considered the most important thing about you. Especially with creative entrepreneurs, and even more so when they become widely successful, the pressure to produce increases. They are told that if they take time to recuperate that they will lose out on major sales. Especially for creative entrepreneurs, where their brand is so interconnected with themselves, they feel as though their work is their entire life. Taking the time to heal is absolutely crucial, especially as a creative entrepreneur. If you experience burn out, your creativity will fall and your mental health with suffer. For business owners and business coaches, understanding the need for these mental health breaks is necessary. Taking care of your health is more important than any profit or gain, and this is constantly ignored in the business world. Creatives also tend to be more emotionally sensitive people, which makes them more prone to creative and emotional burnout. If you are someone who works with creative individuals, I urge that you take this into consideration, because you never know what someone is going through. And if you are a creative person yourself, or someone who is personally struggling with your mental health, I strongly encourage you to take as much time and space that you need to heal, because your health is far more valuable than your brand or your art.

What Kate Spade Means to Me

by Netanel Saso

VAR Fellow Netanel Saso explores what Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s brands mean to her, and interviews 15 women on the streets of Manhattan to find out how Kate Spade impacted them as well.

Visual Arts Reimagined was designed to focus on creative entrepreneurship, and as a current fellow at VAR with a plan to start my own business embedded in the arts, the loss of entrepreneurs Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain really hit home. What always catches my attention are the stories of how small brands rise to success, and the fact that Kate Spade as a brand grew after the creation of just one handbag, and that Anthony Bourdain turned his passion into his job much later on in his life, is truly inspirational. Once I heard about the loss of Kate Spade, I immediately contacted my friends, and stopped any woman that I could on the streets of New York with a Kate Spade item, and asked them to share their story about why they love the brand. A lot of the responses that I received reminded me that Kate Spade goes beyond a tactile object, as most of the women I talked to associated the brand with the first designer bag they ever got from their mothers. The fact that the brand has the ability to shapeshift from being a staple piece in a woman’s closet, to being a symbol or memory of a significant point of a woman’s development and relationship to their mother at an early age, is truly what a brand should strive to do. 

What I love about Kate Spade as a brand, is how it is multigenerational. Growing up, I always saw my mother with Kate Spade bags, and because of her, I slowly started getting into the brand my senior year of high school too. I remember that I was juggling homework, college applications, and a part time job that seemed like a full time job all at once, and my mother wanted to get me a gift that would remind me to slow down. She was well aware that Kate Spade made novelty bags, but when she saw that one of their novelty bags was a wicker snail, she did everything she could to find it because it was no longer in stores. She looked at every resale website possible until she tracked down one of the snail bags on Poshmark, and later on gifted it to me. Little did my mom know that the sweetest gift she ever gave me would make me obsessed with Kate Spade. I never thought that I would be able to walk around with a snail bag and feel comfortable, but boy was I wrong! There is a certain kind of confidence that Kate Spade as a brand exudes, and at a time where I was worried about getting into colleges, I needed to have a bit of humor literally on my side to take me away from being stuck inside of my head. The fact that a brand represents this piercing side to every personality, is perhaps why so many women are drawn to Kate Spade.

A collection of Netenal’s Kate Spade accessories.

 

Many of the women I stopped on the street told me that they were actually not into flashy brands. As an arts major, I have always been interested in why the Kate Spade logo has no capital letters in it. At first, I figured that though Kate Spade was the mastermind behind the brand, she did not want her name to overpower the name of the woman who would purchase an item from her. The logo might have even been aimed at women feeling as though they could be one of Kate Spade’s friends or literally just like Kate Spade when they grow up. After a bit of research, myself and a colleague discovered that lowercase letters go hand in hand with depression. This secret message that is ingrained into every single one of her bags could only be deciphered after her death. As the full story was right in front of her consumer’s eyes all along, fans might now feel a little uneasy. Though the brand now carries much more of a weight with it, there is a sort of beauty and sense of closure that

Netenal’s own Kate Spade purse collection.f my head. The fact that a brand represents this piercing side to every personality, is perhaps why so many women are drawn to Kate Spade.

can be placed in how even though Kate Spade sold her brand, she never truly gave it all away.

Not only has Kate Spade projected herself onto objects that will outlive her, but so has Anthony Bourdain, through filming every person he has gotten to interact with throughout different regions. All across the world cultural food is revered, however in America a relatively young country, our food is merely adopted. Anthony Bourdain traveled to multiple different countries throughout his tv show series Parts Unknown, and never refused a single dish that was offered to him. He traveled to each location, open to anything, which is critical for an entrepreneur. Because he said yes to anything and everything that came his way, he played a major role for many of his young viewers, as he was an advocate for trying new foods, and learning about other cultures. Not only did Anthony show viewers what he learned, but he took them on the journey with him, and because of that, just as kate spade took a back seat alongside her branding, both entrepreneurs became humanitarians.

Below is a slide show of 15 women with their Kate Spade bags and their statements on what they love about her brand.

  • "I believe that Kate Spade has created bags that are timeless, and that all women, even if they don’t own an item from the brand, can identify with the brand." Mariana Scaff Instagram - Mariscaff Photo Credit - Netanel Saso Instagram @netanelsaso